RAW Doesn’t Make You Better

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Canyon Pinion – Canyonlands NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

I read something yesterday that bothered me. A really talented photographer, who has a blog that I like to read sometimes, posted an article stating that the number one thing you can do to improve your landscape photography is to shoot RAW. His argument was, essentially, that post-processing is a necessary aspect of photography, so you might as well fully embrace it and start with a RAW file. I get that if you plan to significantly manipulate your photographs you should probably use RAW because a JPEG is limited in how far you can take it before it begins to degrade. I disagree that post-processing is always or even usually needed, and I don’t think anyone should feel like they must fully embrace it. Edit if you want, or save yourself a bunch of time and strive to get the look that you are after using the options found in your camera. Most of the time it’s possible to get the look that you want straight out of camera, no editing necessary.

Fujifilm cameras are especially great at JPEG processing. Using the different film simulations, which can be significantly customized, and the dynamic range options, it’s possible to get polished images straight out of camera that resemble edited RAW photographs. In fact, while I do some light post-processing occasionally, most of the time I do not edit my photographs whatsoever. I don’t need to! Fujifilm cameras save me so much time because they can produce really nice pictures that don’t require editing, such as the two in this article.

In the early days of digital photography, cameras had a narrow dynamic range, were not particularly good at anything above base ISO, were spotty at white balance, and weren’t programmed to make JPEGs any better than mediocre (at best), so RAW was indeed necessary. Even just 10 years ago camera-made JPEGs weren’t especially great, although on most camera brands they had improved significantly. There was a time when the “you must shoot RAW” argument was valid. It’s not 1998 or 2008 anymore, and almost all cameras are capable of making nice JPEGs. Some cameras are better than others, and that’s why I shoot Fujifilm, but almost any camera make and model manufactured over the last five or so years can make a good JPEG if you take the time to program it to your liking.

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Storm Over San Luis Valley – Alamosa, CO – Fujifilm X-Pro2

I’d much rather spend an extra moment setting the camera to what I want before capturing the image than sitting at a computer later fiddling with a RAW file. I’d rather let the camera do the work for me in the field so that I don’t have to at home. My photography doesn’t suffer for it. You wouldn’t know that my photographs are camera-made JPEGs if I didn’t tell you. I don’t know about you, but I already spend too much time sitting at a computer, so the more I can reduce that the better off I am.

Shooting RAW doesn’t make anyone a better photographer. Use RAW if you want, but it’s just a tool to achieve the results that you’re after, just as the JPEG processor in your camera is a tool to achieve desired results. Use the tool that works best for you. Don’t think that you must shoot RAW because someone doesn’t understand how to get good results without it. If the person who wrote the article took the time to set up their camera in the field, I’m sure that they could create the images they want without the need for Lightroom or Photoshop. It’s fine that the person didn’t, but I think it’s unfair to suggest that RAW is necessary for “better” photography. It’s untrue that you must embrace post-processing to create great photographs, because which format you choose has no bearing on your talent.

19 comments

  1. Khürt Williams · November 10

    I’m going to make a bold statement. I think your missive is as one-sided as that other photographer. I think you’re both wrong.

    Nothing I see in the camera is what I want the final result to be. The camera NEVER sees what I see. It’s just a starting point.

    I shoot in RAW+FINE. I keep the RAW file as my negative. I toss the JPEG file into social media. Then I download the RAW image — my digital negative — into Lightroom and manipulate it to create what I want to create.

    I don’t toss my film negatives into a fire and only keep the print interpretation of that negative that CVS/Walmart provide me.

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    • Ritchie Roesch · November 10

      I don’t think you fully understood my point, or perhaps I didn’t write it clearly. I would never suggest that anyone should only use JPEG. I said that RAW is a tool and JPEG is a tool and to use what works best for you. What I have grown very tired of are those who say that you must use RAW. This advice is pushed very hard in photography circles. It’s often the first suggestion given to a new photographers. But nobody has to use RAW, and it doesn’t make anyone a better photographer. It’s just one way to do it, and it may or may not be the best way for an individual. I hope this makes the article more clear.

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      • Khürt Williams · November 16

        I apologize that I misunderstood your statements about JPEG.

        I agree that JPEG has a place (instant social sharing). I agree that RAW has a place (making creative changes later). I shoot them booth. But I never shoot JPEG only. I want to keep the negative ( I convert my RAF to standard DNG).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · November 16

        I didn’t take any offense to what you said. Mostly I figured that I didn’t communicate as clearly as I should have.

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  2. Khürt Williams · November 10

    I forgot to add that when I am out in shooting I do not have the luxury of time to endlessly fiddle with the camera settings to get a JPEG. And that JPEG is the one the camera algorithm produced as opposed to the one I could produce in Adobe Lightroom. If you are happy with your JPEGs. Great.

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    • Ritchie Roesch · November 10

      It’s interesting that you say this because, for me, taking the time in the field to set everything up slows me down and I believe I come away with better pictures because of it. It also frees up so much time (because I’m never sitting in front of a computer editing pictures) that I’m capturing more photographs than ever before and picture-taking has interfered with family time much less often. But that doesn’t mean my way is the best way or the way everyone should do things. Do what works for you. Everyone has different techniques.

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      • Khürt Williams · November 16

        I agree. Sometimes I will have time to slow down. But my slow captures are still made with the intent to change something in post later. The camera — including the Fuji X series — is deficient in dynamic range etc. compared to my eye. Hence, the camera never captures what I see. Not even close.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · November 16

        You are the artist, so it is always completely up to you how you wish to make that art. Use the tools that you need to create the vision that’s in your head. I tell you what, the problem of “the camera never captures what I see” is a much better problem to have than “not seeing” which is a common issue many people face. Seeing the finished image in your mind ahead of time is an essential skill that’s hard to develop.

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  3. Dayve · November 10

    Of course it depends on you take on post processing. I love to take the initial capture further in post. I put my own stamp on it which varies depending on the image. I like to play with ideas and revisit an image. With raw, I can do this. I can keep the initil ‘negative’ and produce a particular image from it. I don’t over do things in post but it’s nice to know I have the latitude to push things if needed. This, of couse, takes time and, for some it’s just not of interest. I get that. But for me it’s a wonderful experience working on an image in post. It’s the second half of the shot or, as Ansel Adams once put it, the negative’s the score and the print’s the music.

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    • Ritchie Roesch · November 10

      Ansel Adams was a darkroom master, so it’s easy to forget that he also shot Kodachrome for a while, too, and that’s the film equivalent of straight out of camera JPEGs. If RAW works for you, awesome! If JPEG works for someone, awesome! Everyone should use the techniques that works best for them, and nobody should feel that they “have to” do things one certain way because some person said so.

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      • Dayve Ward · November 10

        That is very true, transparency film is a good equivalent to jpegs. It’s also true that some love post processing whilst others do not. I grew up with film and the darkroom so post processing is some what ingrained. It’s great that there are options for both camps and that there are no wrongs. I always like to hear the opinions of others and I think it’s important to keep an open mind.

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      • Ritchie Roesch · November 10

        I’ve done a lot of darkroom work over the years myself. I remember days not seeing daylight because I started before sunrise and didn’t finish until after sunset (I believe this only happened in the winter). I completely agree with your point that are no wrong ways. Nobody should be told that there is only one way, because that’s simply not true.

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  4. ELLIOT STERN · November 10

    Hi Ritchie,

    Something very strange happened. I got you email with the two simulations that look like old film. I put one in my xpro2 and went back to do the other and the email was gone. Never saw the happen before.

    Could you please resend.

    Thanks

    P.s. Your article on Raw was spot on ELLIOT STERN elliotpaulstern@gmail.com http://www.elliotpaulstern.me

    >

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  5. Pingback: RAW Doesn’t Make You Better | Elliot paul stern – Photographer-Educator-Blogger
  6. Ton van Schaik · November 12

    Hi Ritchie,
    thanks for your article. I share your attitude to focus on the proces of picture taking. To do so, I choose the other way: shooting in raw. It resembles the shooting method of the old analoque photography. I disagree that postprocessing is timeconsuming. With simple presets (in Lightroom) you can proces in one click. And maybe tweak a little further. I wrote a more detailed article about using raw or jpg: http://www.lumencamera.nl/?page_id=2828

    Ton van Schaik (Netherlands)

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    • Ritchie Roesch · November 12

      I used to use at one time Alien Skin Exposure for “one-click” RAW processing, which did in fact speed up the process of post-processing quite a bit, but I still found myself spending more time in front of a computer editing pictures than behind the camera capturing pictures. I’m glad that you have a good workflow that works for you. Everyone should do what works best for themselves, whether RAW or JPEG. Thank you for commenting!

      Like

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